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the letter reader

It is the third time I sit down to record The Letter Reader. The laundry rack has been pushed back, the lights dimmed. There is a flat grey sky outside the windows. The song has changed key three times. I even tried it a capella, the guitar just resting on my knee. The words felt hollow and empty when I heard them playing back. Unlistenable. The struggle is a familiar one - between the glowing idea of something butting up against the reality is presents as it enters the world. We are all famous in our own minds - heroes, geniuses, rock stars and saints. In the real world, we are flabby, and fallible. We are painfully human, and no angels. How to align all of this? How to put yourself in front of a microphone, or an empty piece of paper, an open road, a classroom full of children, an office?

Maybe there are glimpses of greatness. Maybe there are little cracks of something magical, if you wait for them, if you nurture them, if you struggle for them. I often find myself yelling at tv sc…

there is always something (why I shoot film)


There are maybe ten shots left on the roll. Outside the metro, a collection of pigeons sit on minuscule ledges above two old men. They talk as all old men do, with operatic waves of their hands, sour expressions, belly laughs, eventually scratching their chins as they stare off at nothing in particular. I am pretending to take pictures of something near them, then swing across when they are not looking to shoot a few frames. At one point I surrender to the afternoon and move on.

And now, the courtyard that leads to the film lab. A great old building rests here, a school of architecture where students mill around dressed in black sucking on cigarettes with giant portfolios tucked under their arms. A young man approaches me. I am ready to tell him I have no idea what he is saying, but he wants to know where the film lab is. I jut my chin, telling him the door is just beyond a few bushes. He nods his thanks.

There are screens set up in a jagged line, sheathed in filthy white plastic to mark the edge of some construction. A woman struts black and forth, her arms tucked behind her back, wearing a rumpled white dress that flaps around in the same wind. I have a few frames left, and was just about ready to roll them into the camera unshot. I shake my head to myself at how foolish I was. There is always something to wrestle with. I think the woman knows I am taking pictures of her anxious white dress not the great old building but she does not really seem to care. I try to advance one more time and feel that familiar tug, the end of the roll. Street photography is always like fishing. You cannot escape the metaphors.

The film is rewound back into the can, and there is a jump in my step as I go inside to drop off and pick up. As I make my way down, I understand for the millionth time why I shoot film. If I did not, I would not have been here, would not have had to find some last shots for the roll, the woman in white, the old men, all of the way back to those tree stumps downstairs in a messy row, they all lead to this moment.

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